Cosmic Bitch-Slap

Catalyzing the Confidence that Redefines and Optimizes All your Relationships

Cosmic Bitch-Slap

Catalyzing the Confidence that Redefines and Optimizes All your Relationships

Cosmic Bitch-Slap

Catalyzing the Confidence that Redefines and Optimizes All your Relationships

Platitudes and Sugar

I had no idea what I was in for when I arrived in South Korea on a yearlong English teaching contract. Living in LA, Korea Town had been a popular late-night destination for Korean BBQ and bubble tea, but that was pretty much all I knew about the food culture. My new job was in Chuncheon, the capital city of Gangwon-Do province where I was hired to teach children aged five through twelve at a private English language institute with the odd name of “Wonderland”. Having just gotten there I was unfamiliar with the Korean tendency to name all things with pleasing, but inanely inappropriate titles…

With no teacher training program in place, I’d begun working the day after my arrival and was crazy-busy figuring out how to do the job I’d been hired for, had never done before, and that nobody there would tell me a thing about. Finally able to relax enough to draw a full breath after a couple of outrageously intense weeks, I had time to explore my surroundings. The first thing I found was a bakery on the ground floor of the building where my school was located called Joyful Breads. Wondering how bread could have a human emotion, I went in to see if I could find a whole grain loaf of bread that would take the edge off my homesickness for life in LA. Inside I was dismayed to find no joyful bread, or anything that even resembled bread, but a vast selection of unidentifiable baked goods. I’d seen my Korean coworkers gobbling up incredible quantities of weird-looking pastries on a daily basis and figured they needed the sugar high to deal with the continuously screaming Korean kiddies. Seeing the multitude of pastries on offer I decided to join the club and maybe buy a blueberry muffin for later.

The walls were lined with shelves containing organized rows of baskets and a center island was also packed with baskets. Seeing it might take me an hour or two to find a blueberry muffin I was grateful my next two class periods were free. Each basket had a little laminated label with the price, the name in Korean, and a name in English for the sugary items within. Some things looked like buns. Some things looked like pastries. Some things looked like crustless pies. Some things looked like thick oval pancakes. Some things looked like nothing I’d ever seen before. What they all had in common however, was an extraordinary amount sugar and a ridiculous name that in no way indicated what they actually were. Morning Happy Bun. Daytime Sweet Health. Brave Nuts Cake. Mocha Fantasy Daydream. Plentiful Soft Bread. Sweet Ecstasy Pastry. Super Cheese Pleasure. Steam Bean Dream. Strewn Dawn Pastry – Strewn with what, one wondered…

Unable to find anything remotely resembling a blueberry muffin I took my chances with a Brave Nuts Cake since it kinda looked like a muffin. Topped with nuts instead of a sack of sugar, I went for it. I was overjoyed when it turned out to be a delicious cinnamony, spicey cakey thing with walnuts that wasn’t overly sweet. Showing it to one of my colleagues I learned that it was a steam cake, the Korean version of a muffin that’s cooked in a steamer basket. When I returned the next day for another one, the only steam cakes in sight were something called Potato Nice Cake sporting a pale orange color and topped with what appeared to be boiled chunks of sweet potato. Thinking to myself “the walnut one was good, how bad could it be” I bought one. This time however, the combination of sweet potato, a ton of sugar, and an equal amount of salt rendered it inedible. Taking a bite of it in my office and practically gagging, I spit the gross orange gob of gak into my trashcan and was observed by the school librarian who shot me her best stink eye for spitting a precious piece of Korean culture into the garbage.

With my new awareness of the prodigious quantities of sweets eaten by my coworkers I now noticed most of the students consuming equally massive quantities of daily sugar. My afternoon classes were comprised of elementary school kids who came for English instruction when let out from school. Stopping at the Joyful Breads bakery for an afterschool snack, they arrived in the classroom early to enjoy their afternoon sugar fix. A popular treat was a hotdog nestled into a flaky pastry topped by stripes of what I assumed were ketchup and mayonnaise. When a student offered one to me I was obligated to accept it, as Korean culture stipulates unconditional acceptance of anything given as a gift. She insisted I try it on the spot and with all the other students watching I took a big bite. Big mistake. That white stuff wasn’t mayo, it was frosting. Barely able to swallow what I’d just chewed and badly wanted to spit out, I learned an important survival skill that day – lying to children. After that initial taste experience whenever students offered something edible, I would smile widely and thank them for the gift telling them I was not allowed to eat food in the classroom but would eat it later on my break. Once on break, it would get tossed into my backpack for disposal in the privacy of my own home.

Not having enjoyed any Western style bread for months, I got unreasonably excited when I saw something called Baguette Bakery on one of my exploratory walks in search of recognizable food. Venturing inside in the hope that the shop name actually had something to do with what was sold there, I was thrilled to see a rack of crusty baguettes on display. Choosing one, I took it to the counter to pay for it. Rather than bagging it and ringing it up, the smiling saleslady began an elaborate process of mutilation on my precious baguette by slicing into it every inch or so before arcing it backwards to widen the spaces. When she swabbed the spaces with generous dollops of what looked like butter and smelled like garlic, I figured it wouldn’t be so bad – garlic bread instead of a plain baguette – and my panic subsided. Finishing the process by liberally sprinkling coarsely ground sea salt over the entire baguette, the saleslady carefully placed it in a plastic sleeve, tossed in a bit more sea salt, and handed it over. Thinking I could shake off some of the salt when I got it home, I ponied up for my French baguette and left the bakery in high spirits.

In celebration of eating an actual baguette for dinner, I made a pasta dish of fresh tomatoes, onions, and garlic over linguine sent to me by a thoughtful friend in LA that would be perfect with the garlic bread, and I even had a bottle of Bordeaux wine purchased at great cost from a nearby department store. Totally stoked at the prospect the delicious Western meal that would taste so fabulous after months of unidentifiable Korean food that all smelled or tasted like fish, I set the table, lit some candles, and poured myself a glass of wine.

Although some of the sea salt had shaken off the baguette on the walk home, most remained embedded in the garlic butter when I put it in the oven to heat. Nicely browned and smelling awesome, I removed it and ripped off a large hunk to have as an appetizer with my wine. Bread in hand, I sat down taking time for a calming deep breath and a satisfying gulp of wine in gratitude for this luxury before taking a bite of the baguette and promptly gagging at the unexpectedly incongruous and extremely unappealing taste of sugary garlic. Wait a minute – Sugar? On a baguette spread with garlic butter? Seriously? It took me about three seconds to realize that what I’d thought was coarsely ground sea salt was in fact, large coarse crystals of sugar. Angrily stuffing it back into the plastic sleeve, I hurled the baguette into the kitchen trash and returned to my wine. Fortunately the linguine was delicious and the 750 ml of Bordeaux definitely went the distance in diminishing the pain of a gastronomic travesty masquerading as garlic bread.

I should have known that with their proclivity for all things sweet, the Koreans would find a way to insinuate sugar into a garlic bread baguette. Amazed that I’d forgotten the lesson of the Potato Nice Cake along with the ketchup and frosting-laced hotdog, it took more than a week before I stopped berating myself for having been lulled into complacency by the possibility of an actual French baguette. The next time I went to Baguette Bakery and chose my crusty baguette, I retained a firm grasp on it as I handed the saleslady my money and thanking her, left the shop under her enigmatic gaze that well could have been her best version of a Korean stink eye.